Meet the Human-Focused Leaders of 2021: Andy Dodman, CHRO at Leeds City Council

Andy Dodman, chief HR officer at Leeds City Council in the UK, talks about digital ecosystems, the skills HR needs to meet the challenges of technological change and why it's all about the individual
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11-minute watch

About Andy Dodman

Andy Dodman has been chief HR officer at Leeds City Council since September 2019 and is vice president of the public sector membership association PPMA.

He was previously chief operating officer at The University of Sheffield and leads the university's corporate services, which includes human resources, marketing, communications, development, alumni relations & events, global engagement,, international services and the city/region public responsibility activities.

Prior to this role, Dodman was the chief HR & corporate officer at the university, leading the HR strategy and service delivery for its 7,800 staff, focusing on the attraction, growth and engagement of world class talent. He particularly emphasises the importance of personal health, happiness and wellbeing in the workplace.

He is the former chair of the Russell Group HR Directors Forum, a member of The Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE) Advisory Group and member of the UHR Executive Committee. He is a trustee director of the University of Sheffield Pension Scheme and the co-founder and non-executive director of the university subsidiary company ‘Everyday Juice Limited’.

Prior to joining the university, Dodman held several HR positions within the voluntary sector, housing associations and the NHS. He was educated at the University of Bath (BSc) and the University of Leeds (MBA) and is a chartered fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD).


Leeds City Council is the local authority, or if you like the local government, that serves the UK's third largest city. As a city Leeds has a population of around 800,000. We employ around 14,500 staff and a similar number again that work in our primary and secondary schools across the city. I think because of the diversity of the services that we run, therefore our workforce is very diverse as well in terms of the different occupational groups that we employ, but also the demographic of the workforce.

Driving up digital literacy

As a city we have two key digital related themes and focuses. So the first is very much about a shared city digital platform, really with the idea being that all the public services across the city have a common technical architecture. So it's very much an integrated public service. Often the kind of phraseology we use is the idea of a smart city ecosystem, where our tech and our systems and our digitalisation join up all of those different services that we run, whether that's housing, transport, air, quality, streetlighting and the like.

The second key issue that we get very much involved in is the idea of digital inclusion and we do as a city and as an organisation have a 100% digital goal and theme. We know as an organisation and as a city, probably around one in five people in the city don't readily have access to the same services that everybody else does. And therefore that population of staff and population of our communities therefore can't readily do the kinds of things that we take for granted. So pay bills online, apply for jobs, check the days that their bins need to be collected or use social media to gain information.

One of our key drivers is obviously to reach 100% level where every member of our workforce, but equally every member of our community, does have that easy access to digitalisation. So our key goal, therefore, is to drive up that digital literacy across the workforce in the city.

How does HR fit into this digital agenda?

So what does that mean for us in HR? As you can imagine, therefore, we have of course a very strong development and skill capability issue to tackle.

So obviously we are really focused very much on ensuring that our workforce do have the digital skills and the capabilities to comply and work towards that city-wide agenda. So there's a development and skills intervention for HR.

I think the second big issue that we have to focus on is the idea of service redesign. So when adapting and changing our services to make sure that they are digital friendly, that they embrace technology, obviously that can result in quite a lot of service redesign and lot of job redesign. And as you can imagine, therefore, our role in HR is to support that agenda. So there's a really strong change management piece attached to that issue.

I think the other big role that HR plays in terms of that digital agenda across the city and organisation is really responding to that pace of change. So as we know digitalisation is moving at great pace and is really playing a significant role across a lot of the organisation and the city.

And therefore we play a key role, I think, in communicating and engaging with our workforce, with our members of our community to really explain, to engage, to empower individuals to get involved in that. So very strong engagement and communication piece.

And I guess perhaps the final thing I would say in terms of the role that we play in HR is really relating back to this issue about this smart integrated ecosystem. And I think HR needs to play a key role and we're endeavouring to play this key role thinking about where digitalisation fits within that whole employment life cycle. So I think probably we're already quite familiar with the idea of technology playing a key role in bits of the lifecycle, so in terms of recruitment, online learning and development, induction onboarding, but it is broadening that out and really making sure that we have that integrated system right across the employment lifecycle and really playing a key part in the employee experience of our staff.

What skills does HR need to enable this?

Delivering that 100% digital literacy approach and that integrated ecosystem approach is a big ask for HR and some of the real sort of key skills that I think HR leaders need to respond to are perhaps two or three key things to share with you. I think that the first interesting thing is obviously with technology and digitalisation we are often on a daily basis, often minute-by-minute, we have this abundance of information, of data, of analytics that we require, or we need, and we use in our jobs.

But I think one of our key roles, one of the key skills, is the idea of being discerning with that. So what it is from that data and that information that we are embracing, we're using, and then sharing with the workforce, sharing with our managers and leaders, and really being quite selective, quite discerning with how we translate and synthesise all that information, all that data. And I think a key skill for us in HR, I think, is to translate all of this into a sort of meaningful narrative that the broad and diverse workforce will be able to pursue, to understand, to get engaged with. So very much about that sort of storytelling I think is a key HR skill connected to this agenda.

I think perhaps the other key skill is not new for HR colleagues, but it is very much about always relating digitalisation back to that corporate purpose and your corporate principles and mission because often you can get quite wrapped up into very specific technological agendas or bits of implementation or programme development that you're doing. And I think our key skill is translating that back to key goals, key purposes, back to that people agenda.

I think the other interesting issue is how much technical expertise do HR leaders need? What kind of level of information and skill do we need as leaders to respond to this agenda? It goes without saying that HR leaders don't, of course, need to be technical experts but I do think they need to be curious. I think they need to think and reflect on where the trends are, where those big issues are, because it can be difficult to keep up with a lot of the terminology, whether it's MRPs or monolithic ERPs or postmodern ERPs or robotic process automation. It's really quite complicated. But HR needs to be curious and spot the trends and have that sense of how all that kind of development and progression can impact on the employee experience, can impact on those different bits of the employment lifecycle.

What are the big challenges with regards HR and technology now?

In a way one of the interesting, challenging things at the moment is there's some inherent sort of conflicts or dichotomies, I think, in terms of readying ourselves for this technological revolution or further digitalisation. So we know about automisation, we know that this can have quite an interesting and adverse impact on people's sense of job security and job change. At the same time, of course, as an HR professional you really want people to be secure, to be engaged, to be happy, to be well. So there's a bit of a conflict there between how you manage those messages between automation and job security and engagement.

Likewise I think there's a little bit of conflict for HR people to practically think about now in terms of this issue about using technology to help us to standardise, to simplify. We, for example, in the council talk quite a lot about let's adopt not adapt, so we can drive up efficiencies, we can reduce complexities but at the same time we want to personalise services and put individuals at the heart of it. So we want individuals to make their own choices, to feel really empowered and feel that they as an individual matter. So how does personalisation conflict with standardisation and that's an inherent conflict and HR I think needs to work through that.

And I think perhaps the other interesting challenge or issue for us to think about now quite seriously is this issue about the pace of technology, the pace of change in terms of digitalisation, and that pace can put pressure on the workforce, put pressure on managers and leaders expecting to respond and adapt quickly to that and using that to drive up their productivity and efficiencies. But at the same time, we know that can put another pressure on people's health, their wellbeing, their workload. So again that can be a little bit of a challenge and a pressure and I think HR needs to quickly think about how we manage that.

It's about the individual

What's always key with this is to ask individual members of staff, our managers, and our leaders, what it is that they think would help them deliver their job in a stronger, better way and help their experience of being a member of staff feel richer, more engaging. So rather than just assuming that an IT director, an HR director, has the answer is to actually invite people to tell us what they think will make the difference. Because it always amazes me, actually, that quite a lot of that technological advancement is coming from lots of different sources, lots of different individuals. It's that kind of open-source approach.

So I think the key thing is to always invite and ask people what will make the difference for them and then using that to guide that direction of travel for the organisation.

This interview is part of our Meet the Human-Focused Leaders of 2021 series in partnership with 10Eighty. You can view more in the series here.

Published 6 October 2021
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